Published Feb 02, 2016Arkells may have opened their set at the Commodore Ballroom with "Cynical Bastards," but the Hamilton, Ontario natives were anything but world-weary on Monday evening (February 1). Fresh off last year's double Juno Award win and Polaris Music Prize long-listing, the six-piece stepped onstage for the first of two sold-out shows with vigour that never waned for the entirety of their performance. The crowd's reception said it all — the floor, balconies and elevated platforms were packed by fans with arms raised, bodies dancing and voices chanting along to the majority of the choruses.
Arkells raided their catalogue from front to back, with riotous early-on renditions of "Come To Light," "11:11" and "Michigan Left" showing off the band's penchant for epic hooks and infectious melodies, accompanied by blistering guitar from Mike DeAngelis, walloping percussion courtesy of Tim Oxford, Nick Dika's steady bass and uninhibited yet precise vocals from lead singer Max Kerman. A tender delivery of 2009's "I'm Not The Sun" brought the tempo down a notch, while the instrument-free ending of "Kiss Cam" showcased the band's ability to harmonize beautifully.
Kerman is an excellent frontman. He knows precisely how to conduct an entertaining show, combining ceaseless audience interaction with impressive musicality, magnetic stage presence and a thorough understanding of how to set up special moments. Little anecdotes preceded songs, and he knelt on the edge of the stage to reach his hands to the outstretched ones. It was this type of bond that elevated the show from concert to intimate experience.
Before breaking into the high-voltage "Oh, The Boss Is Coming!" Kerman shouted, "This can't be a Monday night effort. It's gotta be a Friday night effort! Who called in sick tomorrow?" The audience cheered loudly and, after the opening riff, delivered the opening line themselves without any further prompt.
It was clear that Arkells were having just as much fun as their fans were, throwing their arms around each other mid-song and bounding about the stage. The band paid respects to other musicians, transitioning from "Abigail" into Justin Bieber's "Sorry," opening "Pullin' Punches" with the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and paying a charming three-song tribute to Billy Joel through keyboardist Anthony Carone.
After the last feverish riff of "Whistleblower," Arkells left the stage; the crowd screamed deafeningly for an encore and stomped their feet so hard the walls shook. Moments later, Kerman appeared on a platform in the middle of the masses, holding an acoustic guitar with DeAngelis and Carone in tow. The trio delivered a softened rendition of "Coffee" before racing back to join Dika and Oxford onstage.
The last minutes of Arkells' encore were a celebration and display of respect to their musical peers. Said The Whale's Tyler Bancroft made a surprise appearance and performed his group's hit, "I Love You" before Kerman invited opening bands Modern Space and Dreamers (who, it must be noted, both impressed) to the stage for a joyful jam of George Harrison's "Got My Mind Set On You," with each singer taking turns belting out the verses before the frontmen from Modern Space and Dreamers leapt into the crowd to surf.
Kerman mused at how nice it was to arrive in Vancouver and trade in his parka for "something more comfortable," slipping on a leather jacket as the band broke out into "Leather Jacket." Perhaps the most epic sing-alongs of the night ensued at each chorus as Arkells grinned at each other while they, somehow, played with just as much zest as they did two hours prior, when the momentous night had just started.